Movie Review: Hail, Caesar!

From the artful and oddball directors behind such cult films as The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and No Country For Old Men, Hail, Caesar! takes a peek behind the silver screen of 1950s Hollywood, and delivers both a phenomenal tribute to the cinema culture, as well as a worthy mix of plotlines that all (mostly) collide into one enjoyable ride. With an all-star cast, including the likes of George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and Scarlett Johansson, and the impeccable writing/direction of the Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! may not be the best time you'll have at the theater this year, but it's certainly worth the watch. 

Along the frenzied beaches of 1950s Los Angeles, one of the most prestigious businesses out there is cinema. Whether it be the typical Western flick about a sharp-shooting cowboy with perfect teeth, or a profound historical drama such as Hail, Caesar!, a job in the movie business can be both a blessing and a curse. That's all but true for studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who must spend nearly every hour of his life managing the crazed and often problematic employees of Capitol Pictures Studio. Dealing with a disgruntled director (Ralph Fiennes), a singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) who must tackle a serious drama, and now a kidnapped star (George Clooney), Mannix must do nearly everything possible to keep his studio in line. Leading to a massive sting involving everyone from gossip columnists to Communists, nothing is what it seems once you step out of the silver screen and into the real world.

Evoking my interest both with its '50s cinema appeal and the directors behind it, the Coen brothers' newest comedy brought both an all-star cast and a promising story to an ultimately underwhelming final product. While its proposed caper noir plot is still resonant on the surface, the film ultimately underplays the plot with its hefty focus on paying tribute to the classic cinema tropes of the time period. While this focus isn't too distracting from the caper subplot -- it offering an entertaining and phenomenally accurate representation of '50s Hollywood -- it did make the film come off very disjointed in the end. With that, while the subplot of the missing movie star is only 3/4 of the whole film, the genuine appreciation that the Coen's show towards '50s film culture was very much the highlight of the film.  

With such an oddball film as this one, with its many religious undertones and satirical writing throughout, it can only be a product of the Coen brothers. Offering up yet another self-aware comedy that knows when it's being either intelligent or idiotic (or both at the same time), the unique formula of the Coen's direction has captivated (and at the same time, confused) millions of moviegoers for years. A sort-of virgin to the masterful Ethan and Joel Coen duo myself, having only seen a mere three of their total works, I had little to compare with going into this film. Unbeknownst as to what I might find in Hail, Caesar!, I had a strong feeling that it would be a lot like two of my favorites from the directors: The Big Lebowski, a satirical jumble of wit and stupidity, and Inside Llewyn Davis, a stellar investigation inside the folk music industry. What I got from the Coen's newest project was surprisingly a mix of the two, the film offering both a great degree satire and absurdity, but also an investigation into a culture many of us younger viewers were never aware of.

Much like every Coen film, the massive force of an all-star cast can either make or break the film. In the Coen's case, it's typically the former. Rounding up a fantastic cast including big names like George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson and the small guys like Alden Ehrenreich and Channing Tatum, the Coens populate this Hollywood-centric film the best they can, in hopes of providing an intriguing melting pot of talented stars to utilize. With that, while nearly every character (even Seinfeld's Wayne Knight as a conniving extra) is brilliant in their roles, none of them singularly stuck out when it came to memorable performances. Unlike John Goodman's mindless character in The Big Lebowski or Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, this film unfortunately didn't leave me clamoring to see more of just one single character. With Josh Brolin offering a stern but not all that sane studio executive as Eddie Mannix and George Clooney playing yet another numbskull as actor Baird Whitlock, the cast of the film all had their individual favorable moments in the film, no matter how brief they occupied the screen.

Speaking of favorable moments, there was a plethora of them within this film. However, while there are a number of great scenes, there are also a lot of scenes in the film I found to be either wasted or not developed well. One of the few issues I had with the film, these occasional lackluster scenes -- which often were either too short or offered up a joke or plot point that didn't stick with me all that well -- ultimately made the film feel somewhat long and, as I said before, disjointed. While the occasional snippet of a '50s-style film scene thrown into the mix wasn't all that deterring for me, there were many scenes involving both minor and major characters that didn't feel as fleshed out as they could've been. While this never really made the film less enjoyable to me overall, some scenes offered references or satire towards elements that an older audience might've picked up on better than I could've. 

Overall, while Hail, Caesar! may not surpass some of the Coen brothers' best films out there, it certainly retained the same sarcastic and exuberant style that the unique duo always brings to their films. Delivering a flamboyant cast of characters, all offering up their own degree of entertainment in the film, as well as some sharp writing that sounded like it jumped right out of the '50s, this charming and enjoyable depiction of Hollywood's Golden Age is great watch for any fan of either the Coens, or just cinema culture in general.

I gave this film a 7 out of 10 as it delivered many things I enjoyed and few things I didn't, from its amazing cast (including a singing and dancing sailor/Communist spy Channing Tatum, a duel role for the elusive Tilda Swinton, and a substantial supporting role for the surprisingly hilarious Alden Ehrenreich) to its dynamic portrayal of one of the most influential periods in film history. While some of the jokes didn't fly and some scenes felt short, Hail, Caesar! remains another one of the many pictures by the Coen duo that you either love or you don't.      

Stay tuned soon for more reviews coming soon, as well as my predictions for the biggest award show of the year, the Oscars! Will DiCaprio finally win Best Actor? Could Mad Max really steal Best Picture? All this coming right before the stars take the stage on February 28th!  

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